Dr Irwin Reichstein
Program date: May 21, 2008
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This tale starts with the purchase of an unusual photographic postcard a few years ago at the Ottawa book fair. The card shows what first looks like five young men, all dressed alike with bowler hat and dress coat, gathered around a card table. On a second look, all five appear to be the same person. This bizarre form of portrait goes by many names, the Multigraph being the name of choice to our speaker.
Dr Reichstein’s interest in the unusual image led to the discovery of three more images, all taken at Funland, one dated October 18, 1913. He noted most of the Multigraph style images come from amusement areas along the US eastern seaboard, especially Atlantic City with its famous Boardwalk amusement area.
Interestingly, posing the subject sideways gives a full frontal reflection and a full back reflection as shown by a tintype sold on eBay, and used by Dr Reichstein with the owner’s permission. A table top setup created by Irwin confirmed the sideways pose does indeed give a direct front and back reflection, and the angle determines the number images created.
The history of the Multigraph proved harder to sort out than the technique or the provenance of the first image. Dr Reichstein completed the research over several years. Two issues caused difficulties: firstly, in the late 19c, there were a great many journals in the States and Europe devoted to popular science and to photography, with rampant plagiarism making it hard to determine where a story originated; and secondly, the speed with which information was passed from one journal to another with or without credit given. Stories even crossed the Atlantic in just a few weeks. By carefully tracing the stories back and forth, Dr Reichstein was able to record the flow of information.
A simplified history of the Multigraph starts with two mirrors. Parallel mirrors were first mentioned in a c1890s issue of the French journal “La Nature” in a letter from a person in Constantinople. The text was aided by a sketch of the mirror/subject placement and a drawing of the resulting image. The drawings and article later appeared in a number of journals and photography books. The first mention of the Multigraph appeared in October 1893 in a journal called “Popular Science News and Boston Journal of Chemistry”. A paragraph described the process and credited Mr Shaw, a photographer in Atlantic City, incorrectly identifying the mirror angle as 45 degrees. Included with the article was a drawing of a portrait taken with the subject facing the camera.
Dr Reichstein first discovered the October 1893 paragraph reprinted in another journal at the Museum of Science and Technology Library (he noted that Ottawa has good research resources as does the New York Public Library). The first article, and others that copied it, suggested the Multigraph would be ideal for recording the identity of criminals.
To learn more of Mr Shaw, Dr Reichstein went to the GEH database and to the New York Public Library’s Atlantic City directories. From these sources, and a census record, he learned that a James B Shaw born in England c1850 had a gallery at Boardwalk and New York Avenue in Atlantic City, also called “Shaw’s Spectrotype Photographic Gallery”.
Recycling stories. Dr Reichstein went on to describe how the information moved amongst the journals and back and forth across the Atlantic, sometimes verbatim and some times with a further comment or opinion on the process. Bob Lansdale put him in touch with Bernard Plazonnet in Europe, another Photographic Canadiana contributor. Plazonnet sent an undated article which brought to light the fact that the Multigraph process was also reported in Europe, possible predating the American news. More research finally sorted out the publication time line.
The Scientific American article which corrected the mirror angle, was published a year after the first mention of the Multigraph. In turn the Scientific American article was copied by a photography journal in England without credits or drawings. The text showed up again a couple of weeks later in “The St Louis and Canadian Photographer” with a credit to its source. A French journal followed with an expanded article and new drawings, this time quoting the correct angle. Reflecting its long standing heated fight with the St Louis journal, the “Philadelphia Photographer” responded with an article dismissing the Multigraph and suggesting readers use the multiple-exposures-on-a-plate products of its advertisers instead.
The Multigraph appeared in “Photographic Amusements”, a book published by Woodbury in 1896 (11 editions were published over the next 40 years to 1937). In the early editions, chapter one was devoted to the mirror and the camera, with Woodbury proclaiming that the reflected images gave a softer and more pleasing look. By 1937, the Multigraph was dropped as a portrait process and reduced to a table top trick.
Similar books of photographic tricks were published in Europe predating Woodbury’s book, but none described the Multigraph until after the Scientific American article was published. The various French articles were all based on the Scientific American article leaving Dr Reichstein to conclude that Mr Shaw still seems to be the originator of the Multigraph.
Earlier roots. Not content to end his research with the first use of multiple mirrors in photography, Dr Reichstein went back further into art history. He noted that the three basic aspects of the Multigraph are also found in art: multiple images, use of mirrors, and posing the subject with his/her back to the artist.
While multiple images are rare in art, Dr Reichstein was able to find three examples to share with us: the c1530 painting “A Goldsmith in Three Views” by Lorenzo Lotto, Cardinal de Richelieu by Phillipe de Champaigne, and Charles I c1636 "Triple Portrait" by van Dyke. The “Goldsmith” was said to have been painted to refute an argument by sculptures that painting cannot give the full view of a subject. The portrait, featuring three views of the goldsmith, was painted in the town of Treviso (Italian for Three Views). The other paintings were created to guide sculptures making statues of the two famous dignitaries.
More common is the double image, made photographically by using a double exposure. Perhaps the best of this genre were made by Hannah Maynard of Victoria BC in the late 19c, early 20c.
Mirrors are often used in painting and photography. Toronto galley owner Steve Evans provided Dr Reichstein with a beautiful example - the sepia portrait of a girl posed with her mirror image twin. Another example he presented was a Victorian head and shoulders portrait by Frederick Hollyer. The subject, a girl, is looking away from the camera with mirrors presenting views of the front and back of her head.
Hardest to find were examples with the subject facing away from the artist. Dr Reichstein’s illustration was a cdv photograph showing full length poses by a girl with very long hair, taken with back, front and side views
In conclusion, Dr Reichstein noted that the Multigraph never achieved the degree of public acceptance necessary to provide it with a unique name. The Multigraphs he has seen are mainly postcards, with the occasional cabinet card, and rarely a tintype but never a larger size print. The most common Multigraphs are postcard photos made by Myers - Cope on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. The last series of slides he presented showed some of the more interesting examples of the Multigraph, including the odd “unintentional masterpiece” - an ordinary photograph that transcends its original purpose. Coming full circle to the Multigraph that started his odyssey, Dr Reichstein compared the bowler hatted gentleman to Belgian surrealist René Magritte’s civil servant floating through the air.
CODA: As a result of Dr Reichstein's talk at the PHSC, he was contacted by Heinz-Werner Lawo in Berlin. Herr Lawo is an enthusiastic collector of information on multigraphs and has "collected" images of a number of them. You can see the images and Herr Lawo's notes by visiting his BLOG.
CODA II: Herr Lawo's work led to another very interesting images blog called Shades of the Departed. The Shades blog has a wealth of old images and genealogy commentary and images. The links here go to her discussion of Multigraph images, a page that links to Herr Lawo's blog and to this page on our web site.
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